Initiative Aims to Help Rhode Islanders Launch Co-Ops

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — To an outside observer, the ball of blue Play-Doh in Leonardo Maldonado’s hands Saturday morning was just that.

To Claudia Galeano, a participant in an exercise to imagine and then market the Play-Doh as a bar of soap, it was a product that opened a universe of possibilities. “I’ll clean where no one else does!” the Pawtucket resident from Colombia said in Spanish.

“Madam, that is the new slogan of your cooperative,” Maldonado replied.

The exchange was part of a 10-week program at Navigant Credit Union to train Rhode Islanders to form worker cooperatives. It was organized by the POWER Network: a coalition of local labor organizations formed by Fuerza Laboral, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice and the Center for Justice. The acronym stands for People Owning Wider Economic Resources, according to the Fuerza Laboral website.

“A lot of the people that come to our office do not have job stability,” said Raul Figueroa, a community organizer with Fuerza Laboral. “It is hard for them to plan, save, get ahead. ... It is hard to think about that when you are living on minimum wage.

“The appeal of a co-op is that nobody will have more power than anyone else within the organization. Nobody has the power to control that co-op by themselves, so nobody can fire other members without a valid reason ... creating more opportunities for better pay.”

Read the entire story featuring grantee Fuerza Laboral.